There Is No Light indie action-RPG official artwork and logo

[Update]: There Is No Light's Enhanced Edition has added a whole bunch of new abilities and rebalanced most enemies, thus fixing some of the issues with the slow progression in player power.

In sharp contrast to most action-RPGs that have you start your day with a bit of mundane busywork to help you get acquainted, There Is No Light throws you into the deep end by having you make a deal with the devil and stab an eldritch god in the face within the first few minutes. What follows next is a lengthy adventure that will take you across a world riddled with corruption and teeming with mutated monstrosities, all of which you'll need to single-handedly best in combat while doing whatever you can to keep your soul from descending into darkness. And things only get weirder and weirder from there!

So if you're curious about what There Is No Light's bizarre world has to offer, as well as how the ever-present combat works, allow me to share my thoughts after spending a week slicing and dicing my way through its accursed halls.

Video version of this review (~18 minutes)

Combat and difficulty

There Is No Light's combat follows a very simple action-RPG formula that revolves around dodging, chaining basic attacks to generate rage and then unleashing a powerful charged attack. Simple does not mean bad, however, as There Is No Light's combat is both brutally fast-paced and full of little tricks for you to master.

Enemies in There Is No Light have three different types of attacks, each designated with a colorful marker above their head. Red attacks are generally weak and can be interrupted by your basic strikes. Yellow attacks are powerful and can only be interrupted by charged attacks, while White attacks cannot be stopped at all and thus need to be dodged.

This makes it so fighting enemies, even the most basic ones, requires a fair bit of precision since you can't just mash buttons and hope for the best - you will eat multiple Yellow attacks in a row and fall over dead within seconds. Instead you need to get into a bit of a rhythm that changes with each enemy type. You'll usually need to dive in, do some basic attacks to build up your rage, dodge what you can't counter, and then retaliate by first stunning the enemy with a charged attack before going for the throat.

It's a simple idea in theory, but when you're fighting multiple mobile monsters that each have numerous attacks, trying to keep track of everything gets a bit tricky. Yet when you do manage to do everything correctly and dance through a battle without taking even a single scratch, it genuinely feels amazing!

There Is No Light indie action-RPG screenshot from the Behemoth boss fight

Telegraphed enemy attacks allow you to triumph even at one health

Unlike most games in the genre, There Is No Light is extremely stingy when it comes to healing supplies. They are limited in number, with there only being one or two secluded away distant corners of each region, and they do not respawn! This makes pushing through each new area, and fighting against each new boss, a serious ordeal as you'll often have to weigh your odds of success before biting the bullet and using your precious medicine. After all, if you use a heal and then die anyway, you've just wasted that item forever which is really going to sting!

However, while it doesn't allow you to rely on medicine to keep yourself going, There Is No Light is not cruel when it comes to health management. Hitting enemies with charged attacks fills out your healing meter, with each attack filling one of the four slots. Once all of them have been filled out, smacking the next enemy with a charged attack will grant you a small yet highly useful heal.

What this means is that in order to keep yourself healthy you have to be aggressive and attack as often as possible. The more rage you generate the more charged attacks you can unleash, and the safer you'll be as you'll not only interrupt your foes but also slowly heal yourself in the process.  There is a delicate balance between frustration and dramatic tension here, and for the most part There Is No Light manages to successfully ride that line as you're never that far from a checkpoint and thus any sort of defeat is more of a mild annoyance than anything truly demoralizing.

There Is No Light indie action-RPG screenshot of an ambush mini-boss in the cannibal village

There Is No Light is also kind enough to give you a secret checkpoint whenever it ambushes you with a mini boss

Another reason this sort of combat system works in There Is No Light is the simple fact that both you and your enemies, including the giant bosses, all deal a massive amount of damage and crumble under sustained pressure. I've had boss fights where I died within an instant of entering the room due to a badly timed dodge, and I've also had one battle where I chained my attacks with such perfect precision that I obliterated a mid-game boss within the span of couple of seconds. A rare occurrence given that everything had to align perfectly for that to happen, yet something that is entirely possible if you're skilled enough, which is always a good thing to see in an action-RPG.

All of this combined makes the combat in There Is No Light quite challenging as you're always one mental misstep away from being sent back to the respawn worm (don't question it). At the same time, it also makes it exhilarating since you're never truly down for the count. Even with a low amount of health you're still fully capable of handling every single threat There Is No Light can throw at you. All it takes is a bit of skill, maybe a little bit of luck as well, and you can find yourself triumphing over seemingly impossible challenges. I've always been a sucker for that kind of gameplay philosophy, so for me pushing through There Is No Light's many challenges was a great deal of fun.

There Is No Light indie action-RPG screenshot of a gigantic demon boss

It's not every day you get to face... whatever that is

Visuals and atmosphere

While I found the combat to be highly enjoyable, what impressed me the most with There Is No Light is actually the visuals and atmosphere. From the very start of the game, every single thing you'll run across will be unsettling to look at, yet so deeply ingrained in the world and its story that it feels normal. This then only makes it more off-putting as you know something is horribly wrong, yet everyone acts like you're the crazy one.

The main 'good guy' faction in There Is No Light is ruled over by The Great Hand, a seemingly benevolent eldritch god that demands a certain amount of children from the population each year, but in return offers safety and wax - a sort of miracle food. The people's faith in The Great Hand is so entrenched that nobody even seems to mind that great chunks of the city are covered in wax, most of which has numerous eyes in it that dart around erratically. And that's only the beginning of the decent into madness!

There Is No Light indie action-RPG screenshot of The Great Hand's bizarre eyes

Just a perfectly normal hospital

All of this is portrayed through some highly stylized pixel art that, much like the combat, always tries to keep things fresh with each new area you explore. So despite most of the world being overrun by fleshy growths and filled to the brim with mutated monstrosities, There Is No Light is quite pleasing on the eyes.

I also have to commend There Is No Light on knowing when to take it easy and simply let the player stew in their own thoughts. If there are no enemies to fight or challenges to overcome, you're simply forced to listen to the indescribable moans coming from the dark abyss and watch the twisted scenery squirm and writhe. That sort of thing does far more to build a sense of dread than a spooky scary monster jumping in front of you. The latter you can smack over the head with a sword, while the former is simply some unknowable corrupting force slowly worming its way through the world.

There Is No Light indie action-RPG screenshot of a spider-web covered giant

If that thing failed, what hope have you?

Story and the karma system

When it comes to the actual narrative behind these areas, I'm genuinely not sure what to think. On one hand the story raises some interesting questions about the nature of religion and faith, as well as how slippery the lines between good and evil can be. Mix that up with some Lovecraftian style monstrosities and a world that only seems to get more horrific the more you learn about it, and you end up with a setting that really captured my imagination and kept me motivated to see it through to the end despite the many challenges.

On the other hand, the actual writing behind many of the key story moments, and even random NPC interactions, is a bit too simplistic to convey the true horror of There Is No Light's world. This is a bit hard to explain since it's a compounding effect that took a fair few hours to start bothering me, but most people talk in simple, short sentences without much flourish or personality to it. After a while this made the dialogue start to feel incredibly robotic to me, like I wasn't speaking to actual people.

There Is No Light indie-action RPG screenshot of the dialogue

It's not actively bad, but when everything is like this it just starts to feel a bit... off

It also doesn't help that many of the conversations are very repetitive. If you're in an area that's poor and oppressed, pretty much all of the characters will just repeat that to you in a slightly different way. That sort of thing is completely unnecessary because There Is No Light's visual design is well thought out and fully conveys all of that misery and more that without even uttering a single word.

So while I found There Is No Light's story to be fascinating, it's mostly despite the writing rather than because of it. In the end, it was the strong visual direction and atmosphere that carried the whole experience, while the occasional bits of lore mostly served as a way to contextualize everything. As such, I wouldn't recommend skipping over the dialogue or ignoring the NPCs, though I would advise skimming through some of the less relevant conversations once you catch people repeating the same stuff over and over again. You won't be missing out on much at that point.

There Is No Light indie action-RPG screenshot of the companion's humorous dialogue

Thankfully, your demonic companion is a much more lively fellow

As you go through the story you'll have a ton of chances to weigh in on people's problems, and in the process influence your alignment towards good or evil. In theory this karma system is there to show how you can, through great effort and sacrifice, triumph over your darker side and be a beacon of hope to others. In reality, it's a rollercoaster of nonsense that seems to award positive or negative points completely at random. Allow me to give you two examples:

1) In the slums there is a man with literally nothing to his name that asks you if it's okay for him to steal medicine to save his dying daughter. A fairly simple question from a morality standpoint. After all, engaging in petty theft is a small price to pay for a child's life. Well, if you share my opinion I'm afraid you're wrong! Stealing is bad! Minus karma!

2) A blood-covered maniac living in the literal abyss asks you if it's just for his people to storm the main human city and 'liberate' everyone from religious oppression by force. Again, the answer is blindingly obvious, and again it's wrong. Disagreeing with the maniac results in negative karma because thinking people deserve to choose their own fate is apparently a selfish act.

There Is No Light indie action-RPG screenshot of the karma system influenced dialogue

I'm sure the man standing next to a blood fountain means only well

The reason I've just spent so much time ranting about karma is because I think the system is actually quite clever, yet the silly dialogue keeps it from reaching its true potential. You see, karma isn't gained or lost simply through conversation. Your demonic patron, the source of your power, constantly tempts you in order to have you fall to the dark side, and he is genuinely hard to resist.

Whenever you run out of healing supplies, an item that is incredibly limited and does not respawn, he will create one for you that's just sitting there in the open, begging you to take it. Yet if you succumb to the temptation and go for the forbidden fruit, you will pay for it with your karma.

Similarly, in particularly difficult areas the demon will create a magical gateway for you that leads from the respawn point to a spot near the end of the section. So if you die right before the next checkpoint you'll have to either fight through all of those enemies all over again... or simply admit you're weak and take the shortcut! It's a simple yet highly effective storytelling tool, and something I would've loved to see expanded upon over the binary dialogue choices.

There Is No Light indie action-RPG screenshot of the karma doors and 'free' healing supplies

The helping hand is right there - all you have to do is take it!

Exploration and world design

What's not binary, however, is the sheer amount of areas you can explore almost from the very start. None of this is signposted for you either, so if you're like me and you decide to sniff around every nook and cranny, you'll frequently find yourself in vastly different parts of the world fighting absurd things like blind ghosts and face-stealing spiders. And since there is no world map, speculating on where you are and what you're even trying to accomplish there is rather intriguing. This also helps with the difficulty since if your current path ever becomes too challenging, you can simply fast-travel to a different location and use the generally gentle first few areas to level up your weapons.

These weapons are also the main problem I have with There Is No Light's exploration. The world is set up so you can constantly zip around and fight different flavors of enemies, yet the reward system wants you to focus everything you have on one singular goal. The reason this is the case is that the only way to get extra weapons, which are mostly utility focused and help expand your moveset, is to defeat a tricky boss at the end of a very, very long path. It took me around eleven hours to get my first one, something that I'm fairly disappointed by since I would've loved to have access to the two-handed sword that doubles as a boomerang far earlier in my adventure.

There Is No Light indie action-RPG screenshot of the two-handed sword that doubles as a boomerang

Silly yet highly effective!

On the positive side, each area you can visit is interesting to explore and features a variety of side-paths and secrets to snoop around for. Some of these secrets will give you collectibles you need for quests, and others will give you the always handy healing supplies and experience potions that you can upgrade your weapons with. There's also a variety of sidequest items to uncover, though with no real way to keep track of who needs your help and where, figuring out what to do with these items can often be as tricky as actually finding them!

When it comes to level design, the one thing I have to especially praise There Is No Light for is its ability to show restraint and only using each gimmick once or twice before moving onto the next thing. This made it so I was always excited to push further into a region since I never knew what misadventure awaited me next or just how demented the scenery would get.

So while I would've liked to see the extra weapons better distributed throughout the game, perhaps as rewards for killing a certain amount of bosses rather than specific ones, exploring There Is No Light's world was still a jolly good time. After all, it's not every day you take a couple of steps forward and find yourself going from a weird but harmless religious commune to a labyrinthine military complex that likes to play it fast and loose with the concept of reality!

There Is No Light indie action-RPG screenshot of an endless plane of sand

How about an entire world made out of sand?

Closing thoughts

Between the consistently challenging combat encounters, bizarre yet intriguing visuals, and numerous 'levels' that kept things fresh and interesting all the way through, I ended up having a great deal of fun with There Is No Light. While I found the writing to be a bit too blunt and simplistic, especially when compared to how evocative the world design can be without saying even a single word, it was a very easy problem to overlook given that There Is No Light's gameplay is just so well polished.

As the very first game from a very small studio, There Is No Light is a genuinely commendable effort, and I'll be looking forward to seeing what else the Zelart team can create in the future. So if you're in the mood for a lengthy adventure and you don't mind watching the occasional boss redecorate the room using your face over and over again, I'd highly recommend giving There Is No Light a try.

[Note]: I've also taken the opportunity to create a brief beginner's guide covering some of the most important concepts and tricks I've learned throughout my playthrough. So if you'd like your first run through There Is No Light to be a nice and smooth one, I'd welcome you to give it a look.

There Is No Light indie action-RPG screenshot of the massive messiah boss fight